Say what you like about “ladies who lunch”, at least they have a whole slew of modern, stylish restaurants from which to choose. Come midday, we chaps are supposed to slink into the wood-panelled dining room of a St James’s club, to be fussed over by matronly waitresses, and feast on a time-warped menu of chops, pies, elderly vegetables and nursery puddings. Perhaps, I thought, two of the best-known names in men’s fashion, the late Thomas Burberry and the very-much-still-with-us Ralph Lauren, might offer a more inspiring experience. So, in search of a classic trench coat, but overcome by hunger pangs while rifling through the rails at Burberry, I installed myself at a window table on the first floor of Thomas’s Cafe.
As I toyed with a glass of saumur-champigny and picked my way through a thoroughly healthy salad of radishes, baby carrots, golden beets, chervil and nasturtium flowers, with a few sweet, nutty pickled girolles tossed into the mix, I felt deeply virtuous. But I was also still hungry. So I ordered the lamb rump, perfectly pink-roasted in a Bertha oven, richly flavoured and served with a properly sharp steak knife, not one of the cheap mini bread knives that lesser establishments provide. Perky vegetables – especially some lovely little turnips – partnered the lamb, as well as a mint sauce that was more of a salsa verde, and none the worse for that.
In a show of admirable self-restraint, I even left a few well-buttered Jersey Royals, elegantly scrubbed and scattered with chives, in their bowl, although I did have a handsome wedge of pistachio and Kentish cherry cake by way of pud. Thomas’s Cafe is a soothing refuge from the hurly-burly of retail therapy, and the food is excellent.
And so to Ralph Lauren, just along Regent Street. Enervated by my trench coat quest, I nipped into Ralph’s Coffee & Bar. It is the perfect pitstop: a smart, clubby little place with billiard-cloth walls, bright plaid cushions, horsey memorabilia and a handsome pine bar. The coffee – Mr Lauren’s custom blend – is splendid, as are the cocktails: this being a day of heroic abstemiousness, and to accompany my Old Fashioned, I ordered some crudités, a colourful riot of unimpeachable raw vegetables with a tangy dip.
And sesame-speckled tuna tartare, fresh and zappy, and – well, it’s as much an American classic as one of Mr Lauren’s polo shirts – a lobster roll: chunks from the tail of a sizeable crustacean, sandwiched by warm brioche, a silver bowl of crisps on the side, a few of which I slid into the roll to add a pleasing crunch.
After one more cocktail and a nibble of “Ralph’s Favorites” – cheesecake, brownie and caramel popcorn – to stiffen the sinews for another bout of trying on coats, I concluded, looking in the mirror, that perhaps my day’s diet hadn’t been quite as spartan as I had intended. If only Burberry and Ralph Lauren sold trencherman coats.